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The Water Bottle Moment

3 minute read

‘When bullets are hitting the ground in front of you and it feels as though all hell is breaking loose, you need to be able to respond effectively instead of merely reacting.’

Those were the words of one of my instructors on the Platoon Commanders’ Battle Course that I attended nearly 20 years ago. And whilst my current job doesn’t put me in situations where actual bullets are hitting the ground in front of me, the advice he shared feels as relevant today as it did in Iraq in 2003.

My main instructor on that course was an incredibly inspiring Captain from the Australian Parachute Regiment. I still think about him a lot to this day. He was an absolute beast of a man. There was a story doing the rounds about how he wasn’t allowed to jump out of a plane with his own rucksack as the combined weight was too heavy for the parachute. As a result, the smallest soldier in his unit had to jump with two packs. His own, and his boss’.

But that’s not the point of my story.

Creating Time and Space

I learned one of the most valuable leadership lessons of my entire career from that man, which was about creating time and space amongst the chaos. Something that is incredibly pertinent right now, especially for leaders.

He explained to us that when we found ourselves in contact with the enemy, when bullets were hitting the ground all around us, it would be difficult for us to respond effectively.

He said that after we had taken cover, we should take our water bottle out of the pouch on our hip, drink half of the contents, fasten the lid, put it back in the pouch and do up the clip.

In doing so we would create time and space so that we could think clearly and respond effectively, instead of reacting.

In order to operate effectively in a volatile and uncertain world, we need to create regular pockets of time and space. We need to develop the ability to step back in the moment.

If it’s possible to create time and space when bullets are landing all around us, when we’re making life and death decisions, it’s certainly possible to do the same in the world of business.

So next time you feel under pressure to make an immediate decision, remember this story.

Grab your water bottle, unscrew the lid, drink half the contents and do up the lid. Once you’ve done that put it back on your desk or into your bag and notice the difference. Allow yourself the time to pause and think so that you respond effectively, as opposed to merely reacting.


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